Sony BMG to sell DRM-free MP3 albums via physical gift cards

“Sony BMG Music Entertainment, the world’s second largest music company, will this month become the last of the big four majors to drop copy protection software on music downloads, also known as digital rights management (DRM),” Yinka Adegoke reports for Reuters.

Sony BMG “said on Monday it will launch a gift card service on January 15 called Platinum MusicPass that will feature digital albums from its artists in the MP3 format. The format does not use DRM protection,” Adegoke reports.

“Fans will be able to buy the digital album cards in stores and download full-length albums from a MusicPass Web site after they type in an identifying number. The cards will be available at U.S. retail outlets such as Best Buy and Target,” Adegoke reports.

“In February [2007], Apple Inc. founder Steve Jobs called on music companies to stop requiring retailers to use DRM for services like his company’s iTunes Music Store. Jobs said dropping DRM would help boost sales,” Adegoke reports.

Full article here.

David Lieberman reports for USA Today, “The No. 2 record company after Universal Music will sell plastic cards, called Platinum MusicPass, for individual albums for a suggested price of $12.99.”

“Best Buy, Target and Fred’s stores will be first to sell them. By Jan. 31, they’ll be in Winn-Dixie, Coconuts, FYE, Spec’s and Wherehouse. Like gift cards, MusicPass cards are activated at the store,” Lieberman reports. “Sony BMG initially will offer cards for 37 albums by performers including Alicia Keys, Avril Lavigne, Bruce Springsteen, Chris Brown, Carrie Underwood, Daughtry, Jennifer Lopez and Santana.”

“For a suggested $19.99, Sony BMG also will offer cards for Kenny Chesney’s album Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates and Celine Dion’s Taking Chances that let users download a second album by the same artist,” Lieberman reports.

Lieberman reports, “While conventional download services, such as iTunes, (AAPL) make impulse music buying easier than the cards, Sony BMG feels “strongly that there’s a group that will enjoy carrying the imagery of an artist they love around with them, or sharing it with their friends,” said Thomas Hesse, president of Sony BMG’s global digital business and U.S. sales.”

Full article here.

Greg Sandoval reports for Webware that Sony’s new offering will be “available in unprotected MP3s… It’s important to note that the music is ‘anonymously watermarked,’ which means that it can’t be used to identify users or where the music was purchased, according to the company. The watermarking is intended to help the label learn whether songs are being shared on peer-to-peer networks.”

“The gift cards feature artist images and album information and represents the latest effort by a record company to spur people to buy complete digital albums,” Sandoval reports.

Sandoval writes, “A nice idea but the public has yet to show much interest in buying digital music attached to physical packages. Why not just buy a CD and rip the music later?”

Full article here.

Again, besides the inconvenient physical card issue (Sony is a serious control freak) and the forcing of bundles (albums) upon customers, to repeat what we just said earlier this morning regarding Napster going DRM-free with MP3, why do these outfits insist on going backwards in time to the MP3 dinosaur when they have the more efficient and equally-DRM-free AAC available at their fingertips? Why do they stick to an old, outdated, now-surpassed format?

Can’t they take this opportunity, where they’re stripping off the DRM — thanks to Apple’s Steve Jobs — and changing formats to also follow Jobs’ lead by using the successor to MP3, the superior AAC instead? What’s next, flying cars that they insist on fueling with leaded gas from the 1970s?

Using MP3 today is just dumb, shortsighted, and regressive for no good reason. Now is the time for those straggling device makers to finally add AAC capabilities and let’s move forward, instead of clinging to “backwards compatibility” like some PC box assembler still bolting on parallel ports and installing floppy disk drives. At this rate, an iTunes Store selling point is going to be superior file format vs. last century’s MP3. We’d much rather have DRM-free 256kbps AAC vs. 256kbps MP3 and so would our iPods’ and iPhones’ storage capacities and batteries.

AAC advantages over MP3:
• Improved compression provides higher-quality results with smaller file sizes
• Support for multichannel audio, providing up to 48 full frequency channels
• Higher resolution audio, yielding sampling rates up to 96 kHz
• Improved decoding efficiency, requiring less processing power for decode, hence greater battery life

Now, how long can the music cartels get away with offering DRM-free music to every also-ran and their mother while blatantly excluding Apple? Are they demanding variable pricing (read: price hikes) and bundles (read: albums-only with assorted “extras”) from Apple before deigning to remove their locks? Is it legal to exclude the dominant seller of online music simply because you desperately desire to “level the playing field?” Where is the collusion line and when will it be crossed, if it hasn’t been crossed already?


  1. yes, it should be AAC files, and yes, thank Jobs for the DRM free…

    but the humor is in listening to people say this is bad for Apple cause iTMS will suffer.

    you can almost hear Jobs crying. “oh noes, my break even music store will lose sales and people have millions more reasons to buy high profit iPods! what ever will i do!”

  2. I buy a CD if I wan’t the product, the artwork, the flexibility to rip at high(er) quality etc, otherwise I take advantage of the convenience of downloading. This way I’m still having to go out and buy something or wait for it to be delivered then go through a more long winded procedure of downloading the track or something? And mp3 to boot. How pointless.

  3. This is one hell of a the dumb idea. Let’s see… why is the iTunes Store a popular source for buying music? Because you don’t have to drive to a physical store and find the CD (which may not be in stock), and because you don’t have to buy the whole album (most of the time). Now, you can buy DRM-free songs from Sony BMG, but you have to drive the store and you have to buy the whole album. People who like to drive to the store and buy CDs are still going to buy CDs. People who like to download music are still going to download music from the iTunes Store (or elsewhere). So who is going to buy these things…? No one.

  4. Simply pointless control freak behaviour!

    M.X.N.T.4.1 is right. I might as well buy the damn cd and burn it to whatever format/quality i want.

    “…there’s a group that will enjoy carrying the imagery of an artist they love around with them, or sharing it with their friends.”

    Yeah, do the words “Pokemon Cards” ring a bell?

    Clueless dinosaurs…

  5. Sony BMG feels “strongly that there’s a group that will enjoy carrying the imagery of an artist they love around with them, or sharing it with their friends.” Yeah, I wouldn’t be able to go on with my day unless I had a photo of Kenny Chesney in my pocket. They’re not serious are they?

    “Universal Music will sell plastic cards for individual albums for a suggested price of $12.99.” They do realize that iTunes sells albums for $9.99? But then again, I get that awesome photo of Kenny Chesney. That is SO worth the extra $3.00!

  6. The only way these cards work is if the record company doesn’t offer the same album in CD form. Why would anyone travel to a store to buy a card that requires more work on the backend to download an inferior quality file, when the CD that is playable immediately in a high quality format is waiting just one aisle over?

    Plus, the reason record companies are using MP3 instead of AAC is because they are counting on the buying public’s ignorance. MP3 is a universally known term, even among grandparents, etc. And they can continue to imply that iTunes uses a ‘proprietary’ format (AAC) as FUD. Once others embrace AAC, iTunes is vindicated and hailed as visionary. They don’t want that to happen (they won’t accept that it has already happened).

  7. Let’s see…how can we get rid of the annoying convenience of the internet? Hmmm, oh, I know. Let’s make sure you have to go to a store first!!!

    This is not control freak behavior. It is just ridiculously stupid. Man, if only they could invent a cell phone that only works when plugged into your home landline….

  8. The record labels shy away from AAC because they see it as giving Apple lock-in.

    Many people make the false assumption that the ‘A’ in AAC stands for ‘Apple.’ They should name the next format ‘MP5’ or something like that.

    Other manufacturers of personal media players should add AAC support. Some — like ahem, Sony — already do.

  9. It’s fascinating to watch the music cartels scrambling to try and keep there “old” business model going.

    The average consumer is smarter than what they seem to realize. People are willing to take a lower quality product, ie mp3, if it cost less. But yet yet they want to charge $13 and make it a chore to obtain their music.

    We’ve been paying $10 for album/99¢ per track, conveniently thru various online outlets whenever we feel the need. Or, like some, not paying a dime, conveniently thru various online outlets.

    To compete they need to provide something that has a perceived added value. Customers are tired of jumping through hoops and are wise to the fact that online music should cost less due to the fact that there is no physical medium/distribution cost. They also want to feel like they “own” their music, hence they music rental business is not such a hit.

    They’re fighting human nature and I don’t think they get it.

  10. They think the entire music market is under 14 years old. They seem to forget that most music is sold to 17 to 50 year olds. Even the under 14 group normally ask their parent to buy them the music or more the money to buy the music. My kids are happy with their monthly iTunes allowance. But, even my kids have better taste then must of the crap the labels are shoveling out the doors these days. It’s surprising how many oldies and indie artists my kids have purchased from iTunes. I’m personally a dinosaur as I still prefer to buy CDs and rip them to my HDD..

  11. We, Sony, promise to do everything in our power to make things difficult for our customers. Even when we do something positive for them, we will make sure there is also something negative. This is our oath.

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  12. what you all underestimating is the TYPE of person who would by this kind of “music” to begin with…. C’mon people! You really think the run of the mill Celine Dion fan would be able to RESIST purchasing a card with the picture of her favorite “artist” on it as she stands in line with potato chips, soda, socks and new dinette set for her 7 children? Impossible to pass up! Sony knows its market!

    Bravo, Sony! Bravo!

  13. Nobody – **nobody** can tell the difference between MP3 and AAC tracks encoded at the same bitrate.

    I challenge anyone here to set up a blind listening test to see if someone can tell the Coke from the Pepsi.

    MDN are getting more and more retarded, attacking *anything* non-Apple as “stupid” “blind” “also-ran” etc etc.

    MP3 is the most used music format, period, and the iPod plays MP3s, so would you quit the freaking whining already. Apple advocacy is one thing, MDN is on course for rabid unreasoning fanaticism.

    Why didn’t they even take issue with the ‘anonymous watermarking’???

  14. seriously, MDN, you’re picking the wrong issue to harp on. there are about 5 other maddeningly inane facets of this story to latch onto:
    – the majors continue to collude against Apple by refusing to sell DRM-free tracks on the iTS while selling them elsewhere
    – this negates all the perks of digital downloading by requiring a physical purchase
    – you have to download the whole album – all while exclusively choosing singles-oriented artists!

    why mp3? because every single device and player on the market can play it. that’s the point. not all can play AAC (that’s by choice, mind you). that’s where the argument begins and ends.

    that said, this is the dumbest idea ever, by anyone, anywhere.

    @ ron:
    it’s not technically mp4, that’s why.
    mp3 = mpeg-1, layer 3.
    m4a = mpeg-4 audio

  15. The whole idea of the card is lame, but the format choice is NOT at all. AAC may be technically superior, but how many car stereos play it? How many other players play AAC at this point? Its OK to be a fanboy MDN, but you just come off as whiny and looking for anything to complain about. Everyone knows MP3 and a relatively small group knows AAC. The big win here is that DRM will not be present – focus on that.

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